Research by the Living Wage Foundation showed that parents on low incomes regularly skip meals.
A survey of 1,000 adults found that two out of five had fallen behind on household bills, while a similar number top up their monthly income with a credit card or loan.
Half said they had borrowed money from a friend or relative, and almost one in three walk to work to save on travel costs.
Tess Lanning, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: "These findings reveal the desperate choices low-paid families have to make, and show why it's so important that more employers take a stand by paying the real living wage, based on what they need to live, not just the government minimum."
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Margaret Greenwood, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "These shocking findings lay bare the reality of life on low pay for working families in the UK.
"Parents are skipping meals, falling behind on basic household bills and walking to work because they cannot afford fares.
"Nearly half of part-time jobs are paid below the living wage, and over two-thirds of those are done by women.
"People are working hard for their families, but the Tories are failing them by leaving them at risk of debt and hunger. "
The so-called real living wage is set at £10.20 an hour in London and £8.75 outside the capital, compared with the Government's national living wage of £7.83 for over 25-year-olds.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady commented: "Nobody should be forced to skip meals because of poverty pay, and no business model should depend on its workers running on empty.
"The government must raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour as quickly as possible so that millions more workers get a wage they can live on."
A Government spokesman said: "We increased the National Living Wage on 1 April, meaning full-time workers will earn £2,000 more than when it was introduced in 2016.
"Poverty rates are falling, while the employment rate is at a record high.
"One million fewer people are living in absolute poverty than in 2010, and we continue to offer tailored support to help parents into work so that more families can benefit from the opportunities that work brings."
The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverentd Paul Butler, said: "Clearly the welcome recent increase in national minimum wage is not going far enough or fast enough.
"All children should be growing up in homes with adequate income; sadly at present too many in homes where parents are working hard to make ends meet are not in that position."